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Welcome to the April 24, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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face mask with binary code Virtual Army Rising Up to Protect Healthcare Groups From Hackers
The Hill
Maggie Miller
April 22, 2020

A growing number of white-hat hackers are offering their skills to thwart cybercriminals attempting to exploit healthcare organizations' increased reliance on networks during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the nonprofit COVID-19 CTI League counts more than 1,400 volunteers throughout 76 nations, who are applying their experience in information security, telecommunications, and law enforcement to defend hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. An initial progress report from the CTI League indicated that members have assisted law enforcement in eliminating almost 3,000 cybercriminal assets online and identified more than 2,000 cyber vulnerabilities at hospitals, healthcare groups, and supporting facilities. Chris Krebs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the CTI League "has helped disseminate indicators of compromise to network defenders, improve vulnerability management in the nation's medical infrastructure, and manage supply-chain risks in the medical sector."

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people on street with binary code backdrop Pay Users to Spot Bias in AI, Say Top Researchers
Financial Times
Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan
April 23, 2020

Leading researchers at institutions such as OpenAI, Google, and the U.K.'s Alan Turing Institute and University of Cambridge have proposed a system of financially rewarding users to spot bias in algorithms. The concept was inspired by the bug bounty programs created to encourage software developers to report flaws. Potential users could include artificial intelligence (AI) researchers with direct access to algorithms, the public, and journalists who encounter apparent bias in everyday systems. Cambridge's Haydn Belfield said incentivizing users to rigorously check AI systems could help identify problems earlier in development, while OpenAI's Miles Brundage suggested monetary rewards would encourage developers to spot issues not discovered in public documentation. The Alan Turing Institute's Adrian Weller said financial compensation could encourage greater transparency on algorithmic bias, but cautioned that full transparency could reveal how to exploit such systems.

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Brain-Stimulation Technology Allows Paralyzed Man to Play Guitar Hero Again
The Daily Mail
Jonathan Chadwick
April 23, 2020

A man who lost his sense of touch to a spinal cord injury can play Guitar Hero again thanks to a brain-computer interface (BCI) that provides sensory feedback. Although Ian Burkhart had almost no sensation in his right hand, researchers at the Battelle Memorial Institute found a small neural signal still reached his brain when they stimulated his skin. Their BCI employs electrodes worn on the skin and a computer chip implanted in the motor cortex of the brain to detect otherwise-imperceptible tactile signals. The device augments and transmits those signals as sensory feedback to the head, circumventing Burkhart's damaged spinal cord. Thanks to this artificial haptic feedback, Burkhart can reliably detect something by touch alone, and can control his right arm sufficiently to enjoy everyday activities.

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Taiwan flag Academics Petition Against Rollout of Taiwanese Electronic ID Card
Andrew Silver
April 24, 2020

More than 100 students, academics, industry professionals, political figures, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have signed a petition to stop Taiwan from replacing national identification cards with electronic versions. The proposed chipped card would store the holder's name, birth date, ID card number, marital status, gender, home address, and other personal information, and would support applications like digital signatures and anti-counterfeiting capability. Petitioners say the chip-based cards would engender new legal issues and risks to personal information. The petition, launched by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, urges the Taiwanese government to continue to permit the continued use of non-chipped ID cards, as well a passing comprehensive privacy protection legislation and creating an independent privacy protection authority.

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This Robot Is Helping Astronauts on the Space Station With Tasks, Stress, Isolation
Ashley Strickland
April 21, 2020

A ball-shaped robot built by Airbus at the German Aerospace Center is helping astronauts on the International Space Station manage tasks, stress, and the isolation of living 200 miles above our planet’s surface. In addition to autonomously navigating the European Columbus research module, the CIMON-2 robot can detect astronauts' emotions and tone during conversations and respond in different tones, from teasing to sad. It also can read instructions to guide the astronauts through various procedures. The robot is equipped with two cameras for facial recognition, and five additional cameras assist with navigation and recording video. Said IBM's Matthias Biniok, "CIMON is a technology experiment to find out how virtual agents can support astronauts and increase the efficiency of their work."

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ship engineer wearing a Romware COVID Radius digital bracelet Belgian Port to Test Virus Bracelets Amid Tech Tracing Fears
Associated Press
Mark Carlson; Lorne Cook; Sylvain Plazy
April 23, 2020; et al.

Teams of workers at the Belgian port of Antwerp are preparing to test a bracelet designed to help contain the coronavirus pandemic by enforcing social distancing. Originally developed to find tugboat crew members that have fallen overboard, the plastic-coated bracelets vibrate when they are within about 10 feet of each other, with their vibrational intensity increasing and warning lights flashing as they come closer. The devices ensure physical distancing and can be programmed to provide data, although data collection is not planned for the Antwerp deployment. This effort comes amid European countries' scramble to design contact-tracing applications for mobile phones to help pinpoint outbreak sources. Experts and trade unions are concerned about such solutions becoming invasive, and the European Trade Union Confederation's Isabelle Schoemann said most people do not require technology to understand how far away they should stand from co-workers.

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An illustration of cancer cells. Deep Learning Takes on Tumors
Esther Landhuis
April 21, 2020

Scientists are using deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) technology for cancer research. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Broad Institute applying image-based profiling to screen for genetic mutations discovered that machine learning can detect meaningful variants in images about as well as processes that quantify gene expression in cells. Investigators also are training a deep learning model to predict drug responses based on a person's cancer-genome sequence. Some deep learning tools are open source to help researchers with minimal coding skills; one example is the ZeroCostDL4Mic platform, which uses Colab, Google's free cloud service for AI developers, to provide access to deep learning microscopy tools.

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An infographic of protein nanowires. Researchers Unveil Electronics That Mimic the Human Brain in Efficient, Biological Learning
UMass Amherst News
April 20, 2020

University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass Amherst) researchers have developed a technique for producing a neuromorphic memristor, or "memory transistor" device, using conductive protein nanowires. The researchers induced voltages at the neurological level in the memristors, enabling the electronic devices to operate at the same voltage as signals between neurons in the human brain. The researchers applied a pulsing on-off pattern of positive-negative charges through a tiny metal thread in a memristor, creating an electrical switch. The pulse-triggered changes in the filaments induced new branches and connections, an effect similar to learning in an actual brain. UMass Amherst's Jun Yao said, “You can modulate the conductivity, or the plasticity of the nanowire-memristor synapse so it can emulate biological components for brain-inspired computing. Compared to a conventional computer, this device has a learning capability that is not software-based."

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Flaw in iPhones, iPads May Have Allowed Hackers to Steal Data for Years
Christopher Bing; Joseph Menn; Jack Stubbs
April 22, 2020; et al.

Apple intends to a patch a flaw that iPhones and iPads may have harbored for years, according to the ZecOps security firm. ZecOps CEO Zuk Avraham suggested that the bug in Apple's iOS mobile operating system could be remotely triggered to steal data from the Apple devices, and had been exploited against high-profile users as far back as January 2018. Attackers would send victims an apparently blank email message through the Mail app, which would force the device to crash and reset, during which hackers could steal other data on the device. An Apple spokesperson said a fix will be launched in a forthcoming update on millions of devices sold globally. Apple security expert Patrick Wardle said the bug's discovery "confirms ... that well-resourced adversaries can remotely and silently infect fully patched iOS devices."

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A drone flying over a field. Drones Use Radio Waves to Recharge Sensors While in Flight
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
April 17, 2020

Researchers at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon and Italy’s Institute of Electronics, Computer, and Telecommunications Engineering have developed a system for charging remote sensors by using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver power using radio waves during a flyby. The sensors are equipped with a specialized antenna that harvests the signals and converts them into electricity. AUB's Joseph Costantine said the group is now working on "further optimizing radio frequency energy harvesting from Wi-Fi signals by overcoming their intermittent nature, and increasing the number of sensors that can be specifically targeted in a given region."

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The Origin of Feces: coproID Predicts Sources of Ancient Feces
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
April 17, 2020

A study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) in Germany, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma detailed a new technique of determining the sources of ancient feces. The coproID (coprolite identification) method integrates analysis of ancient host DNA with machine learning software trained on the microbiomes in modern human and dog feces. This technique enables the direct investigation of changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome over time, which scientists hope will yield insights into food intolerances and other human health issues. Said Max Planck’s Maxime Borry, “Identifying human coprolites should be the first step for ancient human microbiome analysis.”

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Companies Devote Shrinking Tech Budgets to Cloud, AI
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
April 16, 2020

According to a new report from International Data Corporation (IDC), overall corporate spending on enterprise technology is likely to decline this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, companies worldwide increasingly are shifting capital spending to cloud services, artificial intelligence (AI), and other tools that could slash costs and increase revenue. Said IDC CEO Crawford Del Prete, "As a result of COVID-19 there's a premium on agility, and the cloud and associated services can give enterprises a high degree of agility." He noted that AI and other advanced software tools enable companies to analyze data, automate processes, and improve efficiencies. The report indicates that many businesses were caught off guard by the pandemic, and just two weeks ago, some had been planning to increase IT spending.

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Harvard Data Science Review
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